Beyond the Twinkie Defense

Remember the “Twinkie Defense?”* It has become a catch-all phrase for any spurious excuse for doing something awful.
Who didn't love them? 

When I verbally assaulted some tourists on Santa Fe’s famous Canyon Road the other day because they didn’t have masks on, I decided I would claim the COVID Defense—say that I’d had a rage attack brought on as a side effect of the pandemic.

I know I am not alone in this behavior, which is so unlike me (I was raised to privilege civility above all else).

A friend confessed that she went off on a white woman at the dog park who tried to cut in front of a Hispanic woman who had patiently waited her turn at the individual dog runs. My friend (also a white woman) told that woman what she could do with her “white privileged behavior.” I guess my friend couldn’t claim the COVID Defense, but maybe the Black Lives Matter Defense would work.

My point being that many of us are enraged right now. This rage is bubbling just below the surface, a response to the constraints placed on our lives by something we can’t see or touch or sense in any way. Interestingly, rage is a primary grief response. Anyone whose beloved family member or friend has died knows this feeling. It’s frightening, really, to be so angry about something so intangible, the loss of someone we love.

And it’s okay to be mad, enraged, even, as long as we don’t react violently against others.

Neither my friend nor I were violent. Impolite? By some people’s standards, maybe. But understandably impolite. Forgivably impolite. Rationally impolite. Some might say we were just telling it like it is.

We’re having so many uncomfortable feelings right now. In addition to rage, we are suffering the acute grief of having lost our lives, our jobs, our contact with friends. Never mind that the losses may only be temporary; our psyches respond as children, primitively and with immediacy. Every parent knows just how ineffective reason is when your child is hurt, angry or upset in any way.

We are angry. We have very rational reasons for being angry. But we don’t need those reasons. We don’t have to justify our emotions. We can just have them.
Peter Finch as Howard Beale in the film Network


Having them is the hard part. What do we do with those feelings, if we can’t beat someone up? I’m reminded of the character in the movie Network, who leaned out the window of the TV station and yelled, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” In the 1976 movie, written by Paddy Chayefsky, Peter Finch plays ex-TV anchor Howard Beale. Beale’s angst-ridden monologue is just as apt today: 

I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work, or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter, punks are running wild in the street, and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it! We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be! We know things are bad — worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! I don't want you to protest, I don't want you to riot, I don't want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first, you've got to get mad! [shouting] You've got to say: 'I'm a human being, goddammit! My life has value!' So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell: 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!...You've got to say: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis! But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!
 
Writer Paddy Chayefsky
So, the good news is, if Paddy Chayefsky could write this, then a human being could feel it, and that means we are not alone. We are not alone in feeling crazy-rageful, heartbroken, lonely, confused, gobsmacked by COVID and George Floyd’s death and all its ramifications and hot summer weather and an unresponsive government and a looming election and running out of face cream. Oh, and biting into a rotten apple from a sack of organic Fujis from Trader Joe’s.

And tourists without masks. Here is what I did to relieve my anger and anxiety when I saw four people, obviously tourists, strolling up Canyon Road without masks. I turned my car around, put my mask on, drove up next to them, rolled down the window and said, in a truly happy voice: “Welcome to Santa Fe! You need to wear your masks! We have a mask law here! You could get a $100 ticket for not wearing a mask!” And the 40-ish guy at the front of the single-file line (the sidewalk is so narrow only one person can pass at points, making masks really important) replied, “Yeah. Whatever.” And kept on walking, maskless. 

So I drove off. And then I called the police, asking them to do a little drive-by enforcement. And then I wrote an email to the mayor and my district’s two city council people suggesting that our public service aides be put to work walking the high-tourist traffic areas, handing out masks and informing people of our mask regulation. (I got an email back within the hour from Mayor Alan Webber, saying he would pass this on to his COVID czarina, and supporting my impulse.) None of this may change anything, but it allowed me a safe outlet for my rage. 

Adam Clayton as The Lone Ranger 
It’s just not okay for me that people from states with really high infection rates are escaping the cities they live in, coming here, and then refusing to follow our simple rules to keep us all safe. 

C'mon—if the Lone Ranger can do it, why can't everyone?

In other words, I'M MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE. 

Whew.

Twinkie, anyone?




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